First Lutheran School
After several years of prayer, study and planning under the guidance of Reverend G. A. Gatzke, First Lutheran School became a reality in January of 1957 with the opening of a kindergarten at First Lutheran Church in downtown Baton Rouge. An additional grade was added each year. For the 1964-1965 school year the campus was expanded to include a second location at Trinity Lutheran Church, a satellite church founded by First Lutheran Church.
Lutheran School Association of Baton Rouge
In December of 1981, Trinity and First Lutheran joined to form the Lutheran School Association of Baton Rouge (LSA.) In 1988 the Lutheran School Association was dissolved and all classes were moved to the Trinity Lutheran Church location.
Baton Rouge Lutheran School
An additional acre of land was purchased next to Trinity Lutheran Church and an eight-classroom building, with a gym, was built. The school was re-named Baton Rouge Lutheran School.
In February 2005, Trinity Lutheran Church voted to purchase a 25-acre site near the intersection of South Harrell's Ferry Road and Jones Creek Road. (The property was fully paid for in 2010.) Design plans are drawn that propose construction of a new church sanctuary, offices, fellowship and meeting areas, an assisted living center, a childcare center, and classroom and other educational facilities for both an elementary school and a high school. (Construction plans are not finalized, but the elementary and high school are not included in the first phase so will not be moving immediately or being developed to include additional grade levels.)
The Beginnings of First Lutheran School
Baton Rouge, LA
By Bettie (Harris) Horn Bendewald - First teacher of First Lutheran School, 1957-1958
Written in celebration of Baton Rouge Lutheran School's 50th Anniversary
In the spring of 1957, the College of Presidents (LCMS) and their respective representatives from the ten Concordia Colleges, gathered in St. Louis at Concordia Seminary. Their purpose was to give divine calls to teacher graduates of the ten colleges.
Unfortunately, there were not enough four year graduates to fill all the teacher requests from schools in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). Therefore, calls were given to Associate of Arts Degree Graduates (2 years of college) to fulfill all the requests. Miss Bettie Ann Harris was an A.A. graduate from Concordia College, Austin, TX.
First Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge had requested a graduate to establish a school with Kindergarten and First Grade. The church was divided, some members wanted the school and some did not. However, they voted to send in a request for a teacher thinking, because of the shortage, they wouldn't get a teacher.
But, they did! Professor Lester Bayer, Education Professor, was the representative from Concordia College, Austin, Texas. He felt, after much prayer and consultation with Miss Harris' fiancé, Clifford Horn, a seminary student there in St. Louis, that he had an A.A. graduate who could establish the school at First Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, LA. This A.A. graduate was 19 years old: Bettie Ann Harris from San Antonio, TX. She is now, Bettie Ann Harris Horn Bendewald.
Miss Harris arrived, by train, in Baton Rouge in July 1957. The head of the Board of Education at First Lutheran Church, Mr. Jim Geidemann and his wife Blanche, met her with her trunk and suitcases. In the car driving away from the train station, Jim asked Blanche if Miss Harris could live in their home until the church found her a place to live. (Showing Miss Harris that they really didn't plan on getting a teacher since no thought had been given for her living facilities.) Hesitantly, Blanche said yes. Their home was a two-bedroom house with one bath. It was obviously too small for a permanent boarder. The Geidemann’s were most gracious, but this could not be a permanent arrangement. Miss Harris had a double bed, chest of drawers, chair, and a cedar chest, which served as her desk.
Ten students were enrolled in first grade and six students were enrolled in Kindergarten. During the month of August, Miss Harris made home visits to all sixteen students in order to understand what kind of homes these children were coming from, which would help her understand her students. The day before Labor Day, some of the parents came to the Sunday School room, attached to the church, which was to function as a day school from Monday to Friday and a Sunday School on Sunday morning. They hung chalkboards and bulletin boards, and set up little tables and chairs to serve as a classroom. Miss Harris went to the Public School Board of Education, rented their textbooks and got a copy of their curriculum. She felt, since these ten first graders would go into public school second grade, they had to be prepared with public school textbooks. She developed her own curriculum, incorporating Religion into most of the subjects.
The day after Labor Day 1957, First Lutheran School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana opened its doors. First Lutheran School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was established!
The year ran along smoothly until some of the church members wanted proof that the students were getting the type of education they would get in the public schools. So, the Board of Education decided they would ask the public school Superintendent to visit Miss Harris' classroom. The Superintendent reported the students at First Lutheran School were getting a better education than they would get at the public school because of the personal attention they were receiving in a small class situation. The school was affirmed and set on its future course.
Miss Harris felt the school needed more publicity. In May of 1958 she, with the help of the students’ parents and Pastor Gatzke's church secretary, Jeannie Terrebonne, cleaned out the old abandoned coffee mill building on the property behind First Lutheran Church, and transformed it into a theatre where the May Pole Dance was presented. The boys wore white shirts, with black bow ties and black pants. The girls were dressed in pastel colored net and taffeta long flowing formal gowns. They danced around a twelve-foot tall May Pole, constructed by the students’ fathers, to the music of the Nutcracker Suite. The old coffee mill was filled to standing room only. The performance was the announcement to the people of Baton Rouge that there was a First Lutheran School in their community. This performance was covered in the daily Baton Rouge newspaper.
Miss Harris left at the end of the year. Mr. John Schmidt served as principal for ten years; then Dr. Richard Wismar, the second principal, for twenty years. Mr. Gordon Schamber followed Dr. Wismar and continues to serve as principal.